3 Quick takes: Untimely penalties, turnovers doom Pokes in Logan
LOGAN, Utah -- Wyoming's football team has plenty of deficiencies through 10 games this season -- turnovers and penalties have not been a part of that scenario.
Boy, did that change Saturday night in Logan.
Wyoming committed nine penalties for 92 yards. Yes, 92. None more egregious than a holding call that erased a timely 45-yard punt return by Austin Conway in the waning minutes of the game with Wyoming trying to make a comeback.
Instead of setting up camp around the Aggies 35-yard line, Wyoming started its final drive from its own 30 with 2:02 left on the clock and no timeouts.
Yes, there were plenty of questionable calls. Two phantom pass interference calls on Tyler Hall that extended Utah State drives were perfect examples of that.
But, the bottom line is, they were called. The Cowboys simply didn't make plays on offense -- again.
Tyler Vander Waal, who was making his second start of the season in place of Sean Chambers, told me earlier this week how much this game meant to him. It was against the Aggies in Laramie last year that Vander Waal lost his starting job. He was abysmal that afternoon.
Today, he had his moments, including scoring a pair of touchdowns on the ground, but three costly interceptions derailed any hope for a Cowboy comeback in front of 16,000-plus inside Maverik Stadium.
Vander Waal launched a throw across his body down the middle of the field -- the biggest no-no the position has -- that was picked off by Eric Munoz to seal the Utah State victory. The sophomore quarterback laid on the ground with his head buried in the turf.
His teammates picked him up.
Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl was in no mood to chat after the game. His 1:19 press conference was testy, at best. When it came to the play of his offense, Bohl had this to say:
"What do you think?" Bohl said to a reporter, who asked about the disappointment in generating more yards, points. "Ask another question."
Bohl concluded his brief presser with this:
"Hey, I got a bad taste in my mouth," he said. "We got beat by a good football team, we had an opportunity to win, we didn't get it done. That's it."
Yeah, it was that kind of night.
On the Cowboys first three offensive possessions, they spent a majority of that inside the Aggies 50-yard line. Javaree Jackson made an athletic play early on to bat down a Jordan Love pass. Jackson dove and snagged it before it could hit the ground.
Wyoming was in business early until Vander Waal spun out of pressure, backtracked about 10 yards before being dumped and fumbling the football.
Two other trips into the red zone were fruitless, too. However, the Cowboys had the lead thanks to a Logan Wilson pick-six. The senior captain from Casper caught a deflected ball off the hands of fellow linebacker Cassh Maluia and took it 10 yards in to give the Cowboys a 7-0 lead.
Once again, Wyoming's defense played at a championship caliber. Again, the offense let them down.
Wyoming now finds itself at 6-4 on the season. All of those losses have come by a combined 15 points.
"Seems like each one is getting harder and harder," fifth-year senior Josh Harshman said about the Pokes' near misses. "... It's getting worse and worse. I feel like, if we stay in the fight, hopefully things will turn around, and they should."
To make matters worse, the Cowboys are running out of weapons. Redshirt freshman tight end, Jackson Marcotte, went down with an injury in the first quarter after a nine-yard catch and run. It didn't look good. Marcotte left the field on a cart. He was seen leaving the locker room with a brace on his left leg and on crutches.
Wyoming is also without Trey Smith, Titus Swen, Eric Abojei and, of course, Chambers. This team has taken a beating. And the list keeps growing.
"We shot ourselves in the foot multiple times," Wilson said. "They played well and made some plays when they mattered. There's some things we need to do, obviously, better ... We need to make sure we aren't losing the games ourselves."
It's gut-check time for the Pokes. Arch-rival CSU is coming to Laramie Friday night for a 7:30 kickoff. The season concludes at Air Force the following Saturday.
Wyoming is leaving Logan without Jim Bridger's rifle. They did it to themselves. They shot off a few toes in the process.
"We prob made too many mistakes to win it," Bohl said. "Our players played hard but we can play smarter."
Bowl hopes slip, slip, slipping away
Harshman used the word "if" when referring to a bowl game for the Cowboys this winter.
That doubt is getting very real.
Utah State is now bowl eligible, becoming the seventh Mountain West team to reach the six-win mark. The league has seven bowl ties -- Las Vegas, New Mexico, Hawaii, Texas, Arizona (x2) and Idaho.
The Cowboys have now lost two straight on the road. There are just a pair of regular-season games remaining, both against rivals. Do you think a bowl committee will want a Wyoming team that is backing into the postseason? Especially if, say, Colorado State becomes eligible in its last three games?
This term gets thrown around an awful lot, but if there's such thing as a must-win game, Friday night is it.
Typically, Bohl gives his guys a day to think about what transpired the previous game. It's called the "24-hour rule." These guys swear by it. Well, that rule is not in effect this week.
"I'm proud of our football team," Bohl said. "We are under 24 hours now. We have to get ready for the Colorado State Rams."
Will the short week be an issue?
"It can be tough if you let it be tough," Wilson said. "As leaders, we'll make sure our guys know we have to move on. We have a big week coming up. It's against CSU, our big-time rival.
"We shouldn't have trouble getting ready for that game."
Defense shines again in second consecutive loss
Wilson tied the NCAA record Saturday for most defensive touchdowns with four. He passed San Diego State legend, Kirk Morrison, for fifth all-time in tackles in conference history. Wilson racked up another eight tackles. Once again, he was the Cowboys best player, helping hold one of the top offenses in college football to 105 yards on the ground.
Wyoming wasn't the only team turning the ball over in Logan. The Cowboys picked off Love twice.
The defense held the fast-paced Aggies to five field goal attempts. Utah State connected on four of those. Wilson and Co. also kept the Aggies high-powered attack out of the end zone late in the third quarter with the ball inside the UW 3-yard line.
Munoz, who also picked off Vander Waal earlier in the fourth quarter, returned the ball to the Wyoming 1. Utah State had to settle for another three.
These guys held Utah State to 26 points a week after keeping Boise State at bay.
They are getting the job done. Wilson is not one to point fingers, assess blame or throw anyone under the bus. Like usual, he picked apart his own game.
"It sucks," he said about not getting the victory despite the effort Saturday. "But there are some plays I could've made better ... You wish to have some of those back. That's the nature of how football is."
Keyon Blankenbaker led the Pokes with nine tackles, followed by eight from Rome Weber, including a big sack on a third and long to extend the game. Alijah Halliburton and Cassh Maluia both finished with seven.
This unit has deserved better results in the win-loss column.
Saturday, they were the only reason the Cowboys had a chance in the end.